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A stubborn goat, a shooting star and an empty 175-year-old inn

In animals, cars, culture, domestic life, entertainment, life, nature, travel on September 10, 2013 at 12:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Never a dull moment, kids!

A map of Prince Edward County

A map of Prince Edward County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On day two of our vacation, we decided to visit the final day of the Picton County Fair, in Prince Edward County, about two hours east of Toronto.

It was one of those perfect fall afternoons — hot sunshine with a cool breeze.

We saw:

– a lawnmower race (Jason plowed into a hay bale)

– a collection of antique tractors, including one from 1926 and this one from 1953

picton01

– the entries in the flower and food competitions

– some fantastic quilts, embroidery, crochet and hooked rugs

– a huge red $175,000 tractor

– a very stubborn goat who, when it was time to parade around the ring for the 4H contest, dug in his hooves, bleated and simply refused to budge

picton 02

– some gorgeous vintage automobiles, including this one

picton fair detail

Watching the four young girls posing with their goats was fascinating, as they moved, kneeling in the sawdust, from one side of their animal to the other, rearranged their goat’s legs for the best pose, and awaited the judge’s decision.

It takes a lot of poise and training to wrangle a small stubborn beast, and I admired their dedication. In New York, the girls would have been the ones preening and posing, nervously subject to dismissal.

Here, instead, they were in charge.

And we really liked the judge’s decision to hoist the stubborn one and move him into the ring to get on with it, already. He could have left its owner crying at the entrance, but he didn’t.

I loved seeing all the skills people here are proud of, whether growing a 74 pound pumpkin or hooking a rug…I couldn’t do any of them!

It’s humbling to be reminded how little city-folk generally know about how to care for animals or vegetables or fruit or how to create lovely things for your home. Instead, we buy stuff from enormous corporations, most of it made by low-wage labor in some distant Asian sweatshop.

The inn we chose is simply amazing, a square white building built in 1838 and moved to its current location a few years ago in numbered pieces, then re-constructed by a local historian.

20130909093604

A pair of Toronto lawyers have poured Godknowshowmuchmoney into renovating it, to perfection. It’s a little austere, but serene, all in calm, neutral colors: rust, cream, olive, black.

It has only four guest rooms, but we were the only people here for all three nights.

So we had this exquisite place all to ourselves: wide plank floors, some original glass in the windows casting bubbled and swirling shadows, a formal oil portrait in the hallway. I love looking out at the trees through ancient glass, wondering what others were thinking when they did so a century and a half ago.

The only sound we can hear is wind rustling the crisping leaves, blown from Lake Ontario across the street.

The front door handle is small, round, brass — even opening the door transports you to a different time and way of moving through space.

I imagine being a woman of the period, alighting from our carriage, and sweeping in with a wide, bustled skirt to a home with no electricity, wi-fi or telephone.

And the stars here are glorious, the Milky Way blessedly once more visible.

I even saw a shooting star.

A cool new car for wheelchair users — thanks, Stacy and Istvan!

In business, cars, cities, culture, design, domestic life, journalism, life, Technology, travel, urban life, US, women, work on April 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

I love this story!

A stubborn young women, Stacy Zoern, 33, lives alone in Austin, Texas. A lawyer, she’s sick of never having her independence, as she has been in a wheelchair since birth and totalled her $80,000 customized van.

She Googles the words “electric neighborhood vehicle” and finds a company in Budapest, Hungary, called Kenguru.

Hungary: visa and stamps

Hungary: visa and stamps (Photo credit: Sem Paradeiro)

Her emails go unanswered. She calls — and finds a man there who was educated in the States and who speaks perfect English. She persuades him he must help her make these cars. He moves to Texas with his family. One of her neighbors is a former Wall Street guy — who lends this new company half a million dollars.

She has no business experience, just the absolute determination there is a need for this product, one she has wanted for years; she estimates a potential market of 3.3 million.

The vehicles are now being made in Florida and will be for sale within months.

Journalists are supposed to be cool, detached, objective. The hell with that! I absolutely admire Stacy and Istvan’s unlikely collaboration and hope they have tremendous success with their venture.

Here’s the whole thing, my piece in today’s New York Times.

A mini-van?!

In behavior, cars, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on December 8, 2012 at 2:38 am
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan photographed in Largo...

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan photographed in Largo, Maryland, USA. Category:Dodge RT Caravan Category:White minivans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you had told me that in this lifetime I would be seated behind the wheel of a Dodge Caravan, I would have said you were mad. Mad!

But this week I was. For those of you not in the automotive know, it’s a fucking mini-van! The sort of thing that soccer moms drive, full of screaming, squirming kids. The sort of vehicle that ends up in heart-warming commercials. (I hate heart-warming!)

We don’t have kids.

We don’t need anything this big.

I’ve only sat in a mini-van when I got into one that is a taxi.

Our ancient Subaru was in the shop for a $3,300 repair. Yes, you read that right. It took longer than our mechanic expected and — which is extremely classy — he paid to rent a replacement vehicle for us. But because of Hurricane Sandy destroying so many cars here when huge trees fell and crushed them, there’s been a local shortage of rental cars. So when I showed up to claim the Chevy Impala they had promised, there were four minivans and a huge truck.

Holy shit. Cars have changed a lot since 2001, the year ours was produced.

It’s new, it’s shiny, it’s huge. It tells me the temperature but I can’t find the clock. The rear visibility is a disaster — the window is too small and all those seats’ headrests block what’s left of it. I finally understand why women driving these things drive really slowly and cautiously and annoyingly. I started doing it too.

My Dad — at 83 — drives a black Jag. When I was 12, he had a gold Jag XKE, sex on wheels! My mother and grandmother drove sports cars into their 60s and I still mourn my beloved red two-seater convertible, a Honda Del Sol, that was stolen from our parking lot and pillaged for parts in 2003.

I saw my first super sexy sports car — a yellow Lotus — in my teens. That was it! I’m the girl who dreams of owning a Porsche Boxster, or maybe a Z4. I’d take a Mercedes or Jag if someone else picked up the payments and the maintenance costs.

But no econo-boxes!

I know, I know, it’s deeply shallow of me to care so much about what the car I drive looks like. Our Subaru is dinged and dented and gray and does its job well, for which we still appreciate it. But I am a total sucker for gorgeous, thoughtful design, whether in fashion, clothing, objects or cars. I was stuck in traffic a while back beside a Maserati — celebrity sighting!

Here’s Wall Street Journal columnist — and a fellow Tarrytown writer I see at Bella’s Diner all the time — Joe Queenan on how boooooring most cars have become:

Bond’s infatuation with his car underscores how little the average man has in common with 007 anymore. When the Bond movies first appeared in the early ’60s, the average guy might not own a Lamborghini or a Porsche or an Aston Martin, but it was still quite possible that he drove a car exuding a certain measure of style: fins, a convertible roof, a two-tone leather interior, fancy hubcaps, perhaps even wood paneling—inside and out. Because of this, he could deceive himself into thinking that there was a little bit of James Bond in all of us. Even if, like me, he was only 11 at the time.

But that was back in an era when men were men and cars were cars. Now all cars look the same. You can see it when the men come pouring out of the multiplex and pile into their automobiles. Honda Civics. Toyota Corollas. An assortment of vehicles that are putatively Ram-tough. And maybe, for the really daring, a Lexus. Which looks like an Elantra. Or a Sonata. Or an Acura.

But it doesn’t look like an Aston Martin.

don’t even get me started on the Priuses.

I myself am just as guilty of this failing as anybody. If Javier Bardem unexpectedly decided to rake my Sienna with merciless machine-gun fire, I’d say, “Be my guest. And strafe the Camry while you’re at it.” I feel the same way about the Nissan hatchback we used to own. A beige hatchback. Torch it, Javier. I’ll lend you the kerosene.

Do you love your ride? Or long for something dreamier?

Life in New York after Hurricane Sandy

In behavior, blogging, books, business, cars, cities, culture, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, US, Weather on November 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm
Satellite imagery demonstrating the core of th...

Satellite imagery demonstrating the core of the New York City Metropolitan Area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome to an 18th century world.

One without electricity.

One in which –– like rural villagers shoving and pushing to reach a communal well for water –- strangers cluster around an extension cord snaking out of someone’s house who does have power. Every open public library is now a refugee camp, open early and open late, with every table and corner jammed with people clicking away on their laptops, notebooks and cell phones in a frenzy of collective, relieved connectivity.

I sit down this morning at the library, whose small parking lot is jammed as soon as it opens,  and the gray-haired bearded guy beside me is the same guy sitting at the other end of the table last night. I move to another spot and see a neighbor, a retired woman on my apartment floor, who has no power. Her neighbor across the hall does. The person below her has none.

It makes no sense.

And Americans are big on individual freedoms, not suddenly enforced intimacy or inter-reliance.

The world has changed and we’re not ready for it.

Today, one-third of the American workforce does not have an office, cubicle, staff job or steady paycheck. Many of us are now – willingly or not – entrepreneurs and freelancers, temps and contract workers. Like many others in today’s shaky economy, without access to power and Wi-Fi, I can’t earn a living.

Most of us, certainly in urban areas, no longer have kerosene or oil lanterns at home or fireplaces on which to cook or gain light and heat. If you do not have a backyard or firepit or grill, and can’t cook outdoors, you’re toast. People who rely on medications that need refrigeration are endangered.

Here, we live in cities and suburbs designed for automobile transportation — crippled without ready access to gasoline, oil and electricity. You can’t gas your car or bus if the gas station has no electric power, so there are now long line-ups at the few stations that are able to stay open.

It was reported yesterday that two children, ages two and four, were swept out of their mother’s arms during the storm, their bodies found in a marsh. Bangladesh? Somewhere in Africa?

 Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs.

A politician wept as she heard the desperate pleas of victims there shouting: “Where is FEMA? Where’s the Red Cross?” The Red Cross has already received $11 million in donations to help Sandy’s victims.

In the 18th century world, you rise when you once again have natural light and it’s safe enough to venture outside. You go to sleep earlier, having dined (if you can) and read by candlelight. Like some earlier ancestor did, I placed tall candles in front of a mirror, to double and reflect their glow.

There is a generator – thankfully very much 21st century – grinding away below my apartment window. It gives our 100-apartment, six-story building enough power to use our elevators, offer heat and illuminate our long hallways. Luckily, our kitchen was one working outlet and we have a gas stove, so we can cook. We also, now, have heat; in former power outages, becoming “normal” here, we fled the freezing temperatures of February for a local hotel. No one repaid us the cost of two nights there.

We paid $80,000 to buy the generator last year, a cost every resident here is sharing.

The storm’s aftermath – scarcity, fear and frustration — naturally, brings out the best and worst in people. There are fist-fights, already, at gas stations because it gas is now a more difficult commodity to obtain and has suddenly jumped again in price as damaged oil refineries shut down. Other people are sharing their homes, food, shelter and kitchens with one another.

A six-outlet power strip is de facto helfpul. (I brought mine to the library.)

One immediately sees the divide between those with electric power – literally, the powerful – and those without. I was able to go to my regular salon and get a manicure this morning and enjoy an important business lunch at a local restaurant, depriving the original spot we’d originally chosen because – right beside the Hudson River –– they’re closed right now.

I’m lucky that my husband, Jose, is a former news photographer who has survived multiple hurricanes for work. He knew what to do. It was he who filled the car with gas (many stations now have no power, creating long lines at the two local ones that have it) and put it into the garage; bought dozens of bottles of water; stocked the fridge and freezer, lined the balcony door with plastic and towels in case it flooded or the glass shattered. (Neither happened.) He’s been in a hotel all week across from his office at The New York Times, working double shifts for colleagues who cannot get to work with most of the subway so badly damaged.

I toured our town yesterday, gasping in dismay at the shattered ancient trees, the smashed wooden and metal fences beneath them. A cabbie tells me the Hudson River rose so high that it has damaged the computers in the police station – which sits a good half-mile from the river’s edge.

 In the town just north of us, Ossining, a 40-foot sailboat sits on the train tracks where the commuter train normally ferries workers into Manhattan.

I was in Minneapolis, giving a speech to retail students and retailers at the University of Minnesota about my book Malled, when the storm hit New York. I never turned on the radio or television – but read Facebook – where my friends in New York and New Jersey posted photos and updates that told me everything I wanted to know.

The number of dead remains fairly low, now at 38, but some of these are tragic – like the person who stepped into water that held a loose electrical cable.

Jose will be home tomorrow, now that the trains are running north to our suburbs again.

Some people are calling Sandy the “storm of the century.”

I doubt it. We’re only 12 years into this century and, given the tremendous violence of weather patterns here in the past few years – drought, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires – I think this is our new normal.

We have no money for it. We have no infrastructure for it. We have no offices or homes or modes of transportation – horses? carts? canoes? – built for it. Doctors no longer make house calls.

We have no idea, or methods for, how to bathe and cook or wash clothes or offer medical care without electricity; Bellevue Hospital, a major downtown Manhattan facility, shut down and had to transfer all its patients.

From The New York Times:

Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City’s flagship public hospital and the premier trauma center in Manhattan, shut down Wednesday after fuel pumps for its backup power generators failed, and it worked into the night to evacuate the 300 patients left in its darkened building. There were 725 patients there when Hurricane Sandy hit.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Alan Aviles, the president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs Bellevue, described third-world conditions, with no hot water, no lab or radiology services and pails of water hauled up the stairs to use for flushing toilets.

After pumping out 17 million gallons of water from the basement, the water is still two and a half feet deep in the cavernous basement where the fuel pumps apparently shorted out and became inoperable — unable to feed the 13th-floor backup generators, Mr. Aviles said.

Welcome to the 18th century.

Care to gavotte?

A nine-hour drive

In behavior, cars, cities, life, travel, US on June 16, 2012 at 1:46 am
Nick Drake, c. 1969.

Nick Drake, c. 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, that was an odyssey!

As some of you know, I could have crossed the width of Ireland three times in the time it took me to get from my Dad’s house in Canada to the house in Vermont where I’m now house-sitting til the 29th, responsible for a pool, a charming small dog and a huge garden.

I started at 8:45 a.m., dropping my Dad off at the car rental place to start his day. As it would turn out, I was driving in tandem with a convoy of tour buses filled with chattering, texting, flirting 13-year-olds…and every rest stop I made, they made as well.

The 401, which runs east-west in Ontario, might be one of the world’s most boring highways — a straight line of asphalt with farm fields on either side for hundreds of miles. (Kilometers, there.)

So, if you’re alone, as I was, tunes are key. My new radio wasn’t working (!?) so it was CDs that would keep me energized and awake for the next day.

Corelli. Martin Sexton. Some Indian instrumentals. That was enough to get me to the Quebec border, where a big blue flag said “Bienvenue” and I switched to the Indigo Girls.

Montreal traffic at 3pm was no pique-nique…especially when the first road sign telling me to look for Route 10 never re-appeared. Nope. Nowhere. And Montrealers, where I learned to drive in 1988, drive fast. At least I could read the road signs in French and knew which streets were which as the exits whizzed past.

Finally, I hit the Champlain Bridge…and was overpowered by a terrifying memory of a story I  covered as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. There is a lane on the bridge that’s a dedicated bus lane during rush hours, the same one I was now using to head south to Vermont. A car filled with young people had smashed head-on into a bus heading the other way…and I had taken (and passed) my driver’s test the following day.

The minute you cross the bridge, you’re in flat, green farming country, surrounded on both sides by barns, silos, cows. Enormous churches whose steeples gleam in the sunshine. I stopped for a breather and flopped into a deep bend to stretch out my back. I stood and caught the eye of a man in a purple polo shirt driving a flatbed carrying a tractor.

It’s fun to be out on the road alone, a redhead in a Subaru packed to the rafters.

The perfect music as I passed through towns whose names would take longer to pronounce than to drive through, like this one,  St.-Pierre-de-Veronne-a-Pike-River, was Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, (his third and final one, whose title track was used for a Volkswagen Cabriolet commercial.) I adore it — meditative, soft and quirky.

It’s barely a half-hour from Montreal to the U.S. border.

I offered my passport…which I had forgotten to sign after I got it two weeks ago. I showed my green card (which actually, now, is green, which allows me the legal right to work and live in the U.S.) in which I’m still a blond.

“Why do you have so much stuff in your car?” the officer asked. I stayed calm and perky and confident, the way Jose has taught me to be: “I’m away from home for a month.”

“Do you have receipts for all those things?”

I actually did. Even my auction goodies.

I figured for sure I was due for a complete shake-down, but was waved through.

It’s always an odd moment when I cross the border between my two homes, the one where I grew up to the age of 30 (Canada, and where my family still lives) and the U.S. (where I’ve married twice and re-built my career despite three recessions.) I treasure elements of both countries and find deeply irritating elements in both.

Toronto pals wonder why I’m “stuck there” and New York friends wonder about the appeal of that 10-hour drive north.

I end up trying to explain American political gridlock to my Canadian peeps and Canadian health-care to my bewildered American friends who desperately crave a better solution but many of whom loathe and distrust any solution involving government.

As I faced my final few miles, I turned the wrong direction and drove another half hour the wrong way, The Doors blasting loud to keep me awake.

I finally pulled into my friend’s driveway after nine hours, grateful for a huge glass of red wine and Chinese food for dinner.

What’s the longest drive you’ve ever done on your own?

Caine’s Arcade: A little LA boy creates a cardboard world

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, cars, children, cities, culture, entertainment, film, Media, news on April 14, 2012 at 12:09 am
Taipei Arcade Games

Taipei Arcade Games (Photo credit: Michael Kwan (Freelancer))

Have you heard — surely, yes, by now if you live in the U.S. — about Caine’s Arcade?

Here’s the link.

In one of those unlikely fairy tales, a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy decided to build an entire amusement arcade out of cardboard boxes and packing tape. He created “fun passes” and used calculators to make sure each pass was legit. His arcade had every variety of game but the place, at the back of his father’s east Los Angeles auto body shop, lacked the crucial element — customers. Most people now buy auto parts on the Internet.

Until Nirvan Mullick, a film-maker, needed one for his old car.

He found Caine, played in his arcade, made a film — and asked everyone he knew to come and play there. They did. The event made NBC Nightly News and a college scholarship (and college prep tutoring) fund has topped $145,000 for Caine, a sweet-faced kid in a bright blue T-shirt.

Although — as someone not wild about traditional college education — I wonder where his amazing imagination would flourish best. Cal Arts?

It’s an astonishing video and I hope you’ll make the time, 10 minutes, to watch it.

It embodies everything I love:

Having a dream

Being persistent enough to make it into something real, even when no one is looking

Finding the tools to build your imagined world

Making stuff up from scratch

Finding someone who believes in you

Having that someone believe in you so much they want to do whatever they can to help you succeed.

I suspect for some people Caine’s win is that he’s now “famous”. It’s not.

The grin on his face when he saw how many people had finally shown up to play in his world was one of the sweetest sights you can imagine.

Related articles

It’s Tuesday. And You’re Happy?

In animals, antiques, art, behavior, business, cars, culture, design, entertainment, Fashion, food, Health, sports, Style, travel, women, work on October 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

 

alcoholic drinks - minibottles

It can come in very small bottles, too...Image by jekert gwapo via Flickr

 

The London School of Economics has started a new study to link happiness to physical location, time of day and other factors.

If it’s Tuesday, they’ve discovered, people are least happy — and at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, they’re feeling their best.

Another new study says six things make most people happy:

It turns out that you can be happy — without worrying — as long as you get enough sleep, spend quality time with your family and get home from work at a decent hour.

According to a new study, it’s the simple things in life that make us content: home-cooked meals, trips abroad, a night out once in a while. As for money, well, The Beatles said it “can’t buy me love,” and it doesn’t seem to do much for happiness, either.

On the list citing the keys to contentment, cash didn’t even make the cut.

Experts doing a study for Yeo Valley, a British dairy company, quizzed 4,000 adults on their lifestyles and asked them to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5 — 5 being perpetually happy exercise guru Richard Simmons and 1 being Oscar the Grouch. The result was a formula that includes one night out a week with a partner or friends and a 20-minute commute to work.

According to the study, happy people have four alcoholic drinks a week. They also eat four portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Here are some of the things guaranteed to leave me grinning, no matter what the day:
Road trip! It can be almost anywhere

Travel, preferably overseas. Preferably Paris or Corsica. OK, anywhere in France! Using my passport makes me really happy

Hanging out with a dear friend over a great meal (or cold beer)

Cold beer — Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, Grolsch, St. Ambroise, Griffon…

An authoritative G & T made with original recipe Tanqueray

A very good pedicure

Scoring a treasure at a flea market or antique show

Watching the red hawks soaring over our balcony

Setting a pretty table and serving dinner to friends

Getting a book finished and into production

Patting a friendly dog

Looking at gorgeous art and well-made objects in a museum or gallery

Hitting to the outfield

Wearing cashmere

A cuddle with the sweetie

A very ripe peach, mango or strawberry

The smells of dried, sun-warmed pine needles, Oeillet-Mignardise or Hesperides soap; horse; ocean; leather; “First” perfume; old stone

The sounds of a halyard clanging against a sailboat mast; water lapping against rocks; wind in the trees; laughter

Here’s one blogger’s list of the things that make her happy.

How about you?

Learning To Drive When You’re Not 16

In behavior, cars on August 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm
Car upside down.
Not optimal…Image via Wikipedia

Can be scary as hell.

Fun piece in The New York Times by Frank Bruni about his recent re-learning to drive and take a driver’s test, decades past the age of 16:

This is a cautionary tale. Like too many harried New Yorkers without cars or much cause to use them, I let my driver’s license expire — in October 2006. Then, in an unlucky development the next May, I was pick-pocketed. The double whammy of an expired license that I could not physically produce meant I could no longer right the situation with a written exam and a vision check. I was effectively 16 again, on the hook for a five-hour class and the dreaded road test, which I came to fear I’d never reach, given the labyrinth of civil-service incompetence, bureaucratic nonsense and simple misfortune I had tumbled into. Kafka could have had a field day with me.

Granted, the stakes weren’t so high. Many people don’t drive, and on most days, not having a license hardly inconvenienced me. But there were vacations and work assignments that required rental cars — and travel companions fed up with my inability to share the burden.

Bruni had to re-learn in Manhattan, which is indeed one of the scarier places to drive. Cyclists swerve and swoop in front of you and pound on your vehicle if they think you’ve transgressed their trajectory. Deliverymen and couriers ride on the wrong side and head straight for you, forcing you into the wrong lane where you, too, can have and/or cause a really bad accident. Hand must be ready to honk horn at all times. Decide, immediately, when it’s OK to cross the intersection and squoosh in behind the furthest vehicle — and when you’re going to get stuck there, blocking the box, liable for a very expensive ticket.

I learned to drive when I was 30, in Montreal, a city whose drivers are every bit as aggressive and impatient as Manhattan’s — but in French and with some very steep hills. I was taught to drive stick.

One night we were on a hill, in the dark, during rush hour. I can’t shift gears because I can’t even find the damn gears!

I started cursing. The instructor cursed back. We finally got up the hill and around the corner.

“You’re such a bitch!” he shouted.

“You’re a terrible teacher!” I shouted back. “I’m only being a bitch because I’m so scared of having an accident. If you were a better teacher, this wouldn’t be happening.”

That cleared up, from then on we got along great.

Like Bruni, I was terrified of taking the driver’s test, especially since I was going to be tested on an automatic, not stick shift. I’d never driven an automatic transmission car and here it was, in French. I got in, stared at the gear shift.

“P…that’s Park, right?” I asked. Thank God she answered, and didn’t flunk me on the spot.

I’ve since driven in a few places legendary for their danger: a mo-ped in Corsica, a rental car in rural Mexico, at night through Kingston, Jamaica (other side of the road.) I think I’m proudest, so far, of parallel parking in Dublin, which felt like doing a back dive it was so totally disorienting.

When did you learn to drive? Who taught you? Was it scary for you, too?

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